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Music Marketing

Storytelling In Music: The Next Chapter

Storytelling In Music

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin. Once upon a time, there lived an industry of music marketers, who were told that the key to their job was storytelling. We’ve realised that stories are what people relate to, so effective and engaging marketing should take the form of telling that story. Whether you’re a musician, a brand, a fitness guru or simply a wannabe social media star, if you have great content as your starting point, all you need to do is communicate a compelling story to your audience. Thanks to social media, we’re all creators now, and we’re all constantly engaged in storytelling – Snapchat Stories, Instagram Stories, relentless self-promotion. After all, if we tell our stories well and often enough, someone out there must and will care, right?

OK, you got me. It’s not quite as simple as that.

STORYTELLING TRANSCENDS SONGS

Whilst working on the marketing campaign for a forthcoming album last week, I started thinking about what content, formats and mediums I could use to tell the story of the artist and the music. Was the answer streaming services, social media, advertising? How could we communicate that story best, reach the widest audience, get the biggest reaction? The more I thought about it, the more I realised that I was thinking about storytelling in a silo – only from the perspective of the artist. And I don’t think that I’m alone in doing that. Yes, the artist is already telling a story through their songs. Yes, it’s important to tell their story to put the music into context, and try and engage fans with who the artist is, what they’re about, where they’ve come from and where they’re going. But in order to engage audiences on a much deeper level, the artist’s story needs to form part of a much larger narrative – one where the listener’s story intersects with their own, and where the listener is the one who writes the next chapter. We’re obsessing over how to tell the artist’s story, and missing the point that the real value lies in knowing how listeners are relating. If there are two sides to every story, why are we so obsessed with just one? Instead of engaging in storytelling as one-way broadcasting, we should also be listening to the audience. As media strategist Nick Susi wrote in his excellent recent piece on building an artist identity in the streaming era:Music is not about the artist – it is about the stories being lived by the listener and how they relate. Stories transcend any specific artist or song.

UNDERSTANDING AUDIENCES

I mean sure, as music marketers we realise that a campaign isn’t just about getting the music out there and promoting it, it’s about how people are reacting to it. So we feverishly keep track of who is streaming and buying that music, where they are, how and where they discovered the music, how often they’re listening for, and so on. However, those listeners still form one big mass of mostly unknown quantity. We’re able to segment them into broad brushstrokes by demographics, age, location, likes, listening habits and so on. But we don’t really know the how and why of what causes a listener to interact with the music, or artist; what triggered that behaviour in the first place; why they do or don’t come back to listen again, or become a fan. That’s the missing piece of the puzzle.

What we should be looking at is how a story makes the listener feel; how how it intersects with their life; and how they continue the original story through their own. The music and tech industries are already working on this, to an extent. Much of the popularity of apps and platform like Musical.ly and YouTube lies in the freedom they give the individual to interpret music and stories in any way they like. Streaming services are constantly refining their algorithms and data science to serve up personalised playlists based on context, mood and timing. Advertisers are developing ever more sophisticated ways in which to tailor ads to your browsing behaviour. And there is certainly more to come. For example, streaming services and DSPs could and should enable much closer artist-fan connections, and artist-fan experiences. I’ve been writing about the need for more music marketing to take place on streaming services since 2013, and highly recommend Mark Mulligan and Bas Grasmayer’s excellent recent articles outlining how this could be done. Spotify is working on all of this and more, as confirmed by Matt Ogle in his keynote on solving music problems at ADE last October:

CHANGING THE MEASURES OF SUCCESS

However, even those developments won’t go far enough on their own. It’s only when we reach the point of understanding the triggers, the emotional behaviours and cultural contexts behind an individual’s interaction with an artist or story that we will be able to deliver genuinely unique experiences. Therefore, it’s time for the music industry to take machine learning and behavioural data further, and to let fans take centre stage. A recent article on Strategy+Business.com outlined the need for marketers “to learn to view audiences as a group of individuals, each with their own motivations, cultural context and behavioural triggers“. We have access to more data than ever before, and yet we still don’t really understand our audiences. What motivates them to become a fan? What triggers their behaviour when they listen to a piece of music, when they stream an artist on repeat, when they add a track to their personal collection, when they buy a gig ticket or piece of merch? Until we can access those answers, we can still only really analyse audiences in large numbers.  And therefore, we’re still focused on measuring success by numbers – numbers of streams, of sales, chart positions, source of stream percentages, ticket sales. What if, in the future, we learned to measure success by how artists made their audience members feel, and placed more value on knowing what makes someone react to a story? Right now, we’re living in an era of mass personalisation – it’s time to move music marketing forward, from one:many to one:one.

Speaking of which, someone told me a story last week about an artist who, in an effort to avoid cut and paste reactions to his forthcoming album, decided to invite journalists to his house to listen to and talk through the album personally, one on one. Through giving each individual a unique opportunity to hear his story, to experience and relate to it on their own level, and to interpret it and share it in their own, individual way, he is empowering his listeners to take his story into their own hands, and to make it their own.

WRITING THE NEXT CHAPTER

Once you put a piece of art out there, you can’t control how it’s experienced, interpreted or shared. It’s the fans who will decide that for you. The fans have more of a voice than ever – they’re the ones who will tell you what works.  They’re the ones who will take your story into their own hands, continue to write it, and ensure that your story lives on. Isn’t it time that we learned to really understand what motivates our audiences; to understand how the artist and audience’s story intersects; and to empower listeners to write the next chapter? If streaming is about the long game, then storytelling should take both creators and audiences alike on a journey.

To be continued…

 

Disclaimer: the views expressed in this article are my own personal ones, and do not represent those of The Orchard.

 

Music Marketing

Taking Music From Exclusive To Experience

Streaming Music Exclusives

If the last few weeks in the music industry have proved anything, it’s that the content exclusive is as deeply embedded as ever. Kanye West dropped his new album exclusively on TIDAL, and promptly declared that the album would never be available on other streaming or download platforms; having not only premiered Drake’s ‘Hotline Bling’ video, but also financed it, it emerged that Apple is also moving into creating exclusive video content with Dr. Dre; and OK Go chose to premiere their new music video on Facebook, which was pretty big news from a band who became famous thanks to YouTube. Meanwhile, Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton suggested that in future, we will see music releases being windowed like movies, with new music being made available exclusively on paid subscription services first, and only on free services later.

The various forms of windowing and premiering music – whether premium-only first and free later, premiering new content exclusively via one platform only before rolling out to others, or holding back from streaming services altogether in order to drive sales – are now firmly established as common practice. In addition, there seems to be a growing school of thought amongst certain artists, labels, and entertainment execs like Lynton that it represents the future of the music industry.

LIMITED AVAILABILITY DEVALUES MUSIC

However, change is coming. Let’s take another look at the exclusives I mentioned earlier. Even the world’s self-proclaimed “greatest artist of all time” – hey, Kanye – couldn’t succeed in dictating to fans how and where they should listen to his album. As TorrentFreak reported last week, the combination of the huge level of demand for ‘The Life Of Pablo’ and its severely limited availability drove a huge surge in piracy, with over half a million pirated copies downloaded within the first 24 hours of release. It’s since been reported that West is considering suing The Pirate Bay over the fiasco; but as has been pointed out, the best way to deal with pirate sites is simply to stop giving fans a reason to go there.

As for OK Go, well, the video has certainly had plenty of attention – at the time of writing, over 48m views, 480k likes, 600k shares and over 30k comments. However, as the band’s lead singer, Damian Kulash, has said, vanity metrics don’t really mean anything. It’s ironic that Kulash goes on to say that instead of focusing on the number of video views, the band just wanted to get the videos in front of as many eyeballs as possible – firstly, isn’t that essentially the same thing? And secondly, they then chose to upload the video exclusively to Facebook. Lots of impressive stats? Yes. A great experience for fans? Or one that might have helped new fans or casual listeners to move down the marketing funnel in some way? Not so much.

The tide has turned, and tipped the balance of power in favour of the audience. When consumers can access pretty much any kind of content they want, anytime, anywhere, it’s not surprising that an exclusive no longer holds much allure. Premieres present a plethora of problems, and usually a pretty terrible end experience, for artists, labels and audiences alike. By releasing content on one platform only, or windowing their content, artists don’t get the distribution that they deserve, and risk alienating fans; fans can’t access the content that they want to when they want to; and labels risk alienating other DSPs.

There are other downsides, too. The popular blog Indie Shuffle announced last week that it has stopped doing track premieres because “it takes the fun out of blogging”. Plus, premieres are now so standard and cliched that they barely provide any beneficial impact, for either the artist or the site. And as the artist RAC noted: “It’s not about the music. It’s become a status check, a symbol of how big you are, an industry calling card.” Artists use premieres to convince fans that they should pay attention to their new material; blogs, websites and streaming services use them to try and convince audiences that they should use their platform. And while a few superstar artists might get away with windowing their content, or putting an exclusive on one platform only, it definitely doesn’t benefit the music industry as a whole. Limited distribution, with a total lack of focus on the listening and discovery experience for audiences, only serves to devalue music even further.

THE LISTENER IS NOW THE POWER PLAYER

Both artists and fans deserve a better experience all round. As Spotify’s Jonathan Prince stated in response to Michael Lynton’s suggestion that music be windowed like movies: “Artists want as many fans as possible to hear their music, & fans want to be able to hear whatever they’re excited about or interested in…the best practice for everybody is wide release.”

The music industry should be focusing on giving the consumer what they want, which is access and convenience for a low price. We shouldn’t be trying to force people to listen to music in a certain way, or via one platform only. Just dropping a record on a streaming service for a certain period of time won’t have enough impact to drive subscription sign-ups; instead, listeners are more likely to opt for piracy, or wait until the album is available on free platforms. It’s hard enough getting audiences to sign up for one streaming subscription; they won’t pay for multiple ones. Instead of assuming that consumers care, and that they want to pay, we need to acknowledge that ultimately, the audience is bigger, and more powerful, than any artist, or platform.

Best practice would be to give audiences what they want, where they want and when they want it; a good example of this is Universal Music’s multi-platform live stream across Spotify, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube last year for their ‘This Is Dance 2016′ launch party. While this kind of catering to audiences on individual platforms may be beyond the reach of many artists and labels, there *are* ways in which we could turn the practice of premieres into a better experience for both artists and fans. Experiences that simultaneously deepen the artist-fan relationship, and that have the potential to drive streaming subscriptions, and monetisation of music. In an ideal world, this would happen via artist-owned channels (and I’m not talking about TIDAL); and we should aim to reach multiple audiences across multiple platforms, depending on where the audience is for each artist. However, given that the music industry is essentially run via third-party tech platforms, for the purposes of this post I’m going to focus on suggesting solutions that could be implemented on streaming services (although some could potentially be adapted and used via artist websites or social networks too).

ACCEPT THAT THE ARTIST IS THE PRODUCT – NOT THE MUSIC

Thanks largely to the rise of social media and mobile consumption, the artist has become the product, rather than the music. Mass audiences are arguably more interested in celebrity and personality than art. Music has become a loss-leader, while the majority of artist revenue is generated via ancillary channels such as live, touring, merchandise, partnerships and so on. However, this trend can be a positive, rather than a negative – it presents an opportunity for music services to create better experiences, products and revenue streams. On iTunes, it’s common for labels and artists to release both a standard and a deluxe version of their albums – could that be extended to streaming platforms as a way to resolve the issue of whether or not to window content on freemium services? For example, while the standard version of an album could be made available to all audiences across all streaming platforms upon release, the deluxe version could be made available on subscription tiers only.

Moving beyond the music itself, streaming services could give artists the opportunity to create much more personality-led content around their music – perhaps making pure-play services more like YouTube or SoundCloud – and up-sell that content to audiences. This idea could encompass audio commentaries, behind-the-scenes videos, interviews, early access to tour tickets, exclusive access to competitions and artist Q&A sessions, and much more. For example, exclusive access to new music from your favourite artists first – whether that’s a new track, a remix, bootleg, mixtape, demo, acoustic session or a cover.

This model doesn’t need to be limited to up-selling listeners to a £9.99 monthly subscription fee, either – in the same vein as mobile apps and games, specific pieces of content could be purchased at individual price points. In the wake of the demise of subscription service Drip, perhaps streaming services could offer fans the option to support or subscribe to their favourite artist directly; and give artists the choice of how much content they make available for free, and how much to put behind a paywall.

Streaming services could implement this more artist-led, personality-led approach via adding new channels to their content programming and curation. A majority of casual listeners discover new music via Spotify’s own playlists and radio features, and don’t visit artist pages. But what if Spotify introduced personalised channels for artists you like? Channels that don’t just contain music from those artists, but the other content described above, and the option to subscribe to a premium tier, or unlock exclusive content for a fee. This could take the form of an ‘Artists’ tab in the dashboard of the desktop app, or as part of ‘Browse’ on mobile; and could be filled with personalised artist content depending on the individual’s usage of Spotify, their favourite artists, and their content consumption preferences.

HOW STREAMING CAN CATER FOR ALL AUDIENCES

By taking this approach, streaming can cater for many different audiences, from casual listeners to superfans via everyone in between, and give them better and more ways in which to engage with artists and music. There may be a vast audience out there who have never paid for content, and who will never pay £120 pounds a year for a premium streaming subscription – but introducing new options for content consumption, and different price points, can cater for those people who might only buy an album once or twice a year. It might also help to transition more CD buyers, more impulse purchasers, and more casual listeners over to streaming.

The opportunities here lie not just in monetisation, but also in data. If those of us trying to market music could identify the likes of superfans and casual listeners, it would enable us to segment audiences properly, and create the right products, experiences and offers for each type of listener at the right time. Every listener will be at a different point in the engagement cycle and marketing funnel; and we need to learn how to tailor experiences for them all in order to move them further down that funnel.

This is a strategy which will allow artists to tell their story, and make their audiences a part of that story. One that will add context around the music on offer, and enable monetisation through that context. Video will be key to enriching this experience, and could also help to provide further opportunities for monetisation. And music videos are just the tip of the iceberg here. For example, streaming services could host live video streams of concerts or premieres that are instantly ‘shoppable’, so that fans watching can instantly access new material; buy tickets to tour dates that are announced during the live stream; purchase or pre-order merchandise for that new track or album or tour. Turning a live stream into an immediate, instantaneous, intimate experience will help to create a compelling value proposition for both artists and fans.

THE BIGGER PICTURE IS ABOUT ADDING LONG-TERM VALUE

Premieres and exclusives are a perfect example of the music industry’s fascination with the new, and its short-sighted obsession with short-term results. But in a streaming world, we must move on from measuring success in units like plays and eyeballs, and turn our attention to implementing longer-term strategies that develop customer lifetime value and repeat engagement through a genuine artist-fan relationship. It’s time to turn the exclusive from a short-term show of ego, and into an aesthetic experience that builds a future foundation for artists and audiences to truly connect.

Music Marketing

Digital Marketing For Musicians

Digital Marketing For Musicians

In a digital world dominated by social networks, artists are more often than not judged on their popularity and success by their social media and streaming stats. But as we navigate the slippery slopes of peak content, and struggle to be seen and heard in the attention economy, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to ensure that your digital marketing cuts through the noise, and to successfully build an engaged fan base. With that in mind, I’ve put together a guide to some of the biggest challenges in digital marketing for musicians, and how you can overcome them.

1) HOW TO FIND YOUR AUDIENCE

First of all, you have to know yourself, know what you stand for, and know what value you can provide for an audience. In a streaming-dominated attention economy, the challenge isn’t to reach more people, and nor is it to increase the amount of people that you sell to; it’s to make people care. This isn’t about what your audience can do for you – it’s about what you can do for your audience.

With quite literally a whole world of content to choose from, the listener is the power player. Therefore, you have to start with your listeners, and put them first. You have to give people a reason to care about you, and to follow you – because the most important factor in any potential fan’s decision as to whether or not they want to support you is how you’re making them feel. Try to find a unique voice, one that people can relate to, in order to express who you are and find your audience. Ask yourself: what makes your music so great? Why should people listen to it? Why should they bother about you? These are the questions that you need to be able to answer in order to successfully find and build a fan base.

Once you’ve figured out what value you can deliver for your audience, think about which digital marketing platforms you’re going to use. Don’t fall into the common trap of thinking that you need to be across them all – you really don’t. Work out which platforms are right for you (where you can post content that best fits your style, your personality and your schedule) and your audience (think about where, when and how your followers best engage with you), and then concentrate on building a community there. Don’t worry about the rest. It’s far more effective to build a genuine community on one or two platforms than an empty number of followers across multiple channels who never really genuinely engage with you at all.

2) HOW TO GROW AND INTERACT WITH YOUR AUDIENCE

Thanks to the dominance of streaming and social networks, artist-fan relationships are becoming fickle, casual and short-term. Because we’re bombarded with so much content across so many channels, social media has become a game of diminishing returns, where audiences are less emotionally invested than ever.

Therefore, it’s harder than ever before to grow a following; so if you really want to do it, you need to focus on building a genuine, two-way relationship with your audience. Get to know your followers; ask them questions and for their feedback; know what they want from you, and how they want to support you. Go above and beyond to add value for your audience, and invest time into developing a personal connection with them. Your music on its own isn’t enough to attract people’s attention, or to keep them engaged. A good rule of thumb to live by is that artists don’t sell their music anymore, they sell themselves. Your time is the most precious commodity that you have, and that you can give.

Don’t worry about follower numbers; it takes a huge amount of time and effort to grow an audience organically, and there will be times when progress is slow. Most importantly, remember that follower numbers on their own mean absolutely nothing; they are just empty vanity metrics. Even if you have 100,000 fans, does that mean that you could sell 100,000 gig tickets, or albums? We all know the answer to that.

Instead, focus on retention before growth. How many of your fans are true fans? How many of them really pay attention to your content, truly engage with you, respond when you ask them to, keep coming back for more? How many of them come to your gigs, and buy or stream your music? Rather than attempting to attract more eyeballs just for the sake of it, learn to truly engage the audience you already have.

When it comes to content, yes, there are certain types of content on certain platforms that will outperform others. For example, Facebook is so keen to take a big bite out of YouTube’s video pie that native video on the former can still get you great organic reach and engagement. However, content is no longer king – the audience is. So before you start posting anything on any platform, stop and think: how is your content going to make your audience feel? Is it exciting, interesting, funny, sad, moving…? Will it make them feel an emotion strongly enough that they want to engage in return, and / or share it with others? That’s what you should be aiming for, before you post anything at all.

Aim to think like a YouTube star does, and attract and build an audience by creating content like those creators do. By that I mean content that is regular, episodic, short-form – perfect for short attention spans, and perfect for mobile consumption. Think about how skilled those stars are at drip-feeding content to their audiences, getting them addicted to their thoughts and doings on a really regular basis, and interacting with those audiences constantly. It’s a strategy that adds value for their audiences, and one that keeps them coming back, and consuming content, time and again.

Finally, measure your results. Keep track of data from your digital channels, and work out things like what content, what platform, what time works best when it comes to engaging your audience, and what your audience does and doesn’t respond to. Then use those insights to refine your content marketing strategy over time.

3) HOW TO MONETISE YOUR AUDIENCE

In a streaming-dominated attention economy, it’s not about the instant gratification of a sale, or a download, or short-term profits. It’s not about selling one really low-priced item e.g. a CD or download to a mass audience once every release cycle. And it’s not about increasing the number of people that you sell to. Once again, the key to monetising your audience in 2016 and beyond is to make people care. Because listeners will only want to support you when they care about you.

Therefore, the only metric that you should be concerned about is Customer Lifetime Value. The ultimate goal is to turn fans into high-value lifetime customers who keep coming back, who keep streaming your music, and who keep supporting you, in order to reap the long-term benefits of customer retention and loyalty. In order to do that, you need to know your audience – use a combination of data and engagement to understand as much as you can about your audience, how they want to support you, what they want from you, and how best to monetise that relationship. Don’t beat your followers over the head with sales messages. Consumers aren’t stupid; stop trying to sell them product, and remember that the real value of music lies in the listener’s emotional connection to it – and to you as an artist.

4) HOW TO HARNESS THE POWER OF YOUR OWN PLATFORMS

Once you’ve developed a personal connection with your audience, you can also monetise that relationship through offering content and experiences for super fans, different products, and allowing your audience to support you at all different kinds of levels. Which brings me on to the importance of harnessing the power of your own platforms.

By all means leverage social networks and streaming services for all the engagement, reach and data that you can get out of them, but make sure that you’re not relying on them entirely. You need to be able to reach fans directly and not just through a third-party platform. Most importantly of all, you need to own the relationship with your audience – gather and own as much data as you can, and prioritise the power of your own platforms. Far too often, artists ignore the humble website and mailing list when starting out, and focus all of their efforts solely on social media – but never forget that the former are still the most powerful tools at the music industry’s disposal in 2016. So set up a website (a platform like WordPress is a good start), and a mailing list (MailChimp is by far the best option), and make sure that you focus on building up your email subscribers as a top priority – because they will be the most engaged followers that you have, and the ones who are most likely to support you.

Your social media followers will be largely made up of more casual listeners and observers, rather than super fans – but if you focus on giving them the right kind of content and value, you could convert them over time into more engaged fans, who will then sign up to your website updates, mailing list and so on. Then you can send out exclusive offers, pre-sales, content and more to your most engaged followers via your website and mailing list. Segmenting your audience in this way, and tailoring marketing content and messaging to different types of fans, is by far the most effective way of monetising your audience.

5) HOW TO RUN EFFECTIVE ADS

Of course, there will be times when you do need to send out sales messages, and when you need to monetise through running ads; particularly since every social network is now more ad platform than communication medium. Organic engagement and having a genuine two-way relationship with your audience go hand in hand with effective advertising, and will help you to maximise monetisation opportunities – but you’re going to have to accept that you have to pay to play if you want to reach a wider audience.

Once you’ve spent time building that artist-fan relationship, you’ll be able to set up ads that feel as organic and natural as possible. The best-performing ads are always ones that look and feel most like an organic social post, not like a sales pitch – focus on keeping that emotional connection between your audience and your music, or your live show, or whatever it is that you’re promoting, and why they should care about it.

When it comes to running social ads, start with Facebook. Facebook delivers by far the most detailed targeting options, the most detailed analytics, and the best value of any digital ad platform right now. You don’t need to spend a lot of money on social ads – you can set up a Facebook ad for 20 pounds and get great results, as long as you focus on achieving a clear goal with each ad – for example, do you want to send people to a page on your website? Or to a site like Beatport? Do you want to drive as many views as possible on a video? Do you want to generate as much engagement as possible on a particular post on your page? You also need to make your targeting as specific as possible – do you want to reach more of your own fans, or fans of similar artists, fans of a certain festival that you’re playing at in a certain area? If you have time, it’s well worth getting to know Facebook’s Power Editor in order to book your ads – it gives you features that Ads Manager (Facebook’s more basic ad booking tool), doesn’t. And never ever click on the ‘Boost Post’ button from your Facebook page. Because those ads aren’t defined by a clear campaign objective and specific target audiences, they only ever deliver poor results.

Facebook also offers free tools such as Audience Insights and Audience Optimisation, which will help you to find out more about your followers, and how best to target them with both ads and organic content. They’re simple to use, and will help you to make sure that you’re monetising your audience most effectively.

6) HOW TO MAKE THE MOST OF STREAMING SERVICES

Again, you’ve got to be active on streaming services if you’re going to really build up an audience on those platforms. Focus on Spotify first and foremost, which has the biggest user base, and will therefore deliver the biggest benefits for you as an artist. While you don’t need to be on all social platforms, if you’re not active on streaming services then you’re missing out on a huge opportunity to monetise your music.

Recorded music, live music and radio are becoming ever more closely integrated on streaming services, and Spotify is in the process of building much better messaging and social features. Music marketing will start to shift more and more towards streaming services rather than social networks, so make sure that you’re prepared to take advantage. Start by being active on streaming services yourself – listening to music, sharing your releases and music you like with your followers, building up playlists that represent your own style, and then sharing that content via your other digital platforms. You could even use your playlists to replicate your own radio shows, or live mixes. Make sure that you’re using streaming data from platforms like Spotify Fan Insights and Next Big Sound to determine to see who’s streaming your music, when, where and how best to reach them.

7) WORK SMARTER, NOT HARDER

In summary, while getting your digital marketing right takes time and effort, working smarter and not harder will reap results. Set yourself objectives for what you want to achieve; use only the platforms that are key for you and your audience; only put out content that is going to add value for your audience and help you to build a genuine relationship with them; and use data to help you constantly evaluate your results, and adjust your strategy accordingly. And above all, always start with your audience and what they want first, and work backwards from that. Because as a wise man once said: “If you’ve created a piece of content, but you haven’t built up an audience first, will anyone be able to consume that content?”

Music Marketing

Music Marketing In 2016: 6 Key Trends

Music Marketing In 2016

New year, new start, new stats. After a rollercoaster ride through the ups and downs of digital music in 2015, new figures from the BPI and Nielsen Music indicate that revenues are on the rise, bolstered by the latest reports that Apple Music now has 10m paying subscribers, and Spotify 25m. And in the UK and US recorded music markets, the growth of streaming seems to be outweighing the decline in track and album sales,  So far, so good – but of course, there are always dark clouds to darken digital music’s silver linings. The music industry still has many urgent issues to solve – such as safe harbour, putting payouts and royalties to rights, and taking paid subscription streaming truly mainstream. With these developments heralding big changes in how music is released and promoted, let’s take a look at what these latest reports mean for the music industry, and ask: how will 2016 change music marketing?

1) VIDEO IS THE SOCIAL MEDIA STAR

Thanks to ever-increasing innovation in video technology, and an apparently unquenchable thirst among consumers for video content, video will be the key format for music marketing in 2016. As live-streaming and interactive video experiences go more mainstream, it will be crucial for the music industry to isolate and understand exactly what opportunities video presents – and how best to monetise those opportunities.

We can expect to see more experimentation with live-streaming within streaming platforms, and live-streaming simultaneously on multiple platforms, as Universal did last autumn with their ‘This Is Dance 2016’ launch party. This multi-platform approach represents a win for both fans and the label / artist that I expect to see others replicating – enabling the former to access the stream on the platform of their choice, and the latter to increase their chances of reaching the widest possible audience. In addition, if mainstream platforms such as YouTube and Facebook introduce features to make live-streaming much more of an interactive experience – such as virtual tip jars, messaging, and the ability to up-sell merchandise and music – then we could see new opportunities for monetisation and audience development start to open up. But when it comes to making the live-streaming experience truly immersive and interactive, virtual reality holds the key.

2) VIRTUAL BECOMES REALITY

While VR may be a long way off mass adoption, it’s not for a lack of trying on the part of the music and technology industries. Oculus has announced that its Rift headsets will ship from March for £499, while Universal Music plans to create a series of virtual reality concerts this year. Details have been few so far, but it will be fascinating to find out exactly how these concerts will be accessed by audiences. It’s easy to write off initiatives like this as gimmickry, but VR is about the long game. In a few years’ time, VR-capable technology will be commonplace, while mainstream media platforms like Facebook and YouTube already support 360-degree videos, and anyone with a smartphone only needs a cheap Google Cardboard-style housing in order to have a VR headset on their hands.

2015 saw plenty of initial flirtation with 360-degree, interactive and experimental video formats, such as The Weeknd’s ‘The Hills’ remix VR experience, and Years & Years’ DeepDream ‘Desire’ video. We’ll see many more labels and artists move into creating interactive video experiences this year – although budget may prove a sticking point for some. And while the creative and marketing potential is huge, creators and advertisers alike must beware the risk of alienating fans with content that’s seen as a simple gimmick. Only by focusing on creating compelling experiences, which are tailor-made for each platform and each audience, can virtual reality truly go mainstream.

3) REDEFINING YOUTUBE’S ROLE IN MUSIC

As the dominance of streaming and video in digital music grows, so too does that of YouTube. Firstly, there’s its cultural impact. As music industry analyst Mark Mulligan has highlighted, YouTube has become the single most important content destination for younger generations. So much so that YouTube stars are creating a whole new youth culture, and reinventing the star-fan relationship as we know it. YouTubers are creating successful careers and revenue streams both on and off the platform; wannabe stars should aim to be the next PewDiePie. Artists need to think more like YouTubers do, and attract and build audiences by creating regular, episodic, bite-size content that is not only perfect for short attention spans and mobile consumption, but also for getting audiences addicted. As with all streaming platforms, artists and labels must play the long game and focus on developing a relationship with their audience, building a community, and keeping those fans coming back and consuming as much content as regularly as possible. Only then can that content and that audience be monetised.

Which brings us on to YouTube’s commercial impact. YouTube generated $9bn in revenue last year, significantly more than any other music streaming service; and video streams grew faster than audio ones. This means that the music industry must turn video from pure promotional tool into revenue-bearing product, by following in the footsteps of the YouTubers. We may see more big acts take an audio-streaming-first approach to releases this year, as the likes of One Direction and Ellie Goulding did last year, but that alone won’t dent YouTube’s power – so artists must ensure that they are monetising the platform as effectively as possible through their music marketing. The launch of YouTube Red should provide another incentive to create more content on the platform, although there is a huge question mark as to whether even the likes of Google can persuade people to pay for content that they’re used to getting for free. And it’s telling to note that YouTube isn’t just relying on music to drive subscription sign-ups, instead using the incentive of original, exclusive content from some of its best-loved creators such as gamer PewDiePie, producers and writers The Fine Brothers, comedian Lilly Singh and more.

4) TAKING STREAMING MAINSTREAM, AND THE BIG MUSIC BUNDLE

That problem of how to drive subscriptions is one of the biggest issues facing digital music in 2016 and beyond. Streaming is finally starting to make up for the decline in single and album sales in the UK; Apple Music now has 10m paying subscribers; Spotify is rumoured to have at least 25m. And of course, that’s all cause for celebration. However, we should be cautiously optimistic; the struggle to take streaming truly mainstream, and to drive subscription sign-ups, is still all too real. Despite these positive developments, the market for music subscriptions still isn’t that big; and as yet, it’s not clear whether Apple’s sign-up success is at the expense of other services, or whether it really is growing the overall number of paying subscribers. The hard fact is, many listeners aren’t interested in paying £120 a year for music. Nielsen Music’s latest 360 report shows that a worrying number of consumers still think that streaming is too expensive, this being the main barrier to them signing up to a subscription. Perhaps even worse was that “I can stream music for free” was #2 on the list of reasons why people would not pay, and that that 78% of respondents said they were ‘somewhat or very unlikely’ to pay for a streaming service in the next 6 months.

Simply put, streaming services will have to keep changing their models in 2016 and beyond, and diversifying into new revenue streams in order to achieve any kind of mass adoption. Prices will need to drop, more niche platforms may well emerge, the battle for content exclusives between the streaming behemoths will reach fever pitch, and it freemium may suffer the consequences of all of the above. In order to convert more casual listeners into paying customers, recorded music will increasingly be bundled with other content; and at the same time, the role of music streaming services may well change. Will streaming services look to emulate the success of platforms like Netflix by becoming original content creators themselves? An interesting by-product of this would be the potential for streaming services to replace, or at least lessen the reliance on, traditional record label services. It seems likely that we’ll see more content creation partnerships between streaming services and big-name artists; however, this will only further the superstar economy, and create more walled gardens, when getting people to pay for one subscription is tough enough. The ultimate solution to this could perhaps be that a platform like Spotify gets acquired by Netflix, and itself bundled with other entertainment content. But what would that mean for music industry revenues, for artists, for labels?

5) STREAMING COMBINES BIG DATA AND BIG IDEAS

As download sales decrease and streaming dominates and evolves, it will be more crucial than ever for the music industry to figure out what does and doesn’t work in streaming, how to make money and how to open up new revenue streams. The more that streaming moves towards making Ian Hogarth’s concept of ‘full stack music’ a reality, and becomes more tightly integrated with live music and radio, the more marketing opportunities and revenue streams will open up for the music industry. Streaming services could also introduce more marketing and messaging features, and perhaps ones like artist subscriptions, but the potential for further innovation goes much deeper. For example, in the wake of Facebook’s announcement that Messenger now has 800m users, Music Ally suggested that AI chat bots could live within streaming services themselves, helping you to create playlists and find music that you’ll love. How important playlists are will be another key question to answer in 2016; if Spotify was to follow up on calls for it to professionalise curators on the platform, this would add value for curators and creators alike.

The key to all of this – and the real value of streaming – lies in data. The implementation in 2015 of new artist analytics platforms by the likes of Spotify and Pandora was a good start – but we’re still only taking baby steps towards being able to access the kind of data that will help the industry to understand who fans and superfans are, where they are, how they listen to artists, what drives streams and repeat listens, what drives a casual listener to become a fan, what drives listeners to buy tickets, merchandise and so on. Services like Spotify are data companies above all, and could still do more to help artists to build and reach audiences on their platforms, to develop communities on those platforms rather than via external social networks, and to drive repeat plays, engagement and time spent. 2016 looks set to be the year when we start to see exactly how all of this information comes together, and exactly how streaming data is influencing the way that music is released and marketed, and tours are planned.

6) MUSIC MARKETING GETS ANTISOCIAL

It’s time for the music industry to re-evaluate its social media strategy, which has become a game of diminishing returns for artists and audiences alike. It’s time to end the obsession with meaningless vanity metrics, and instead focus on building sustainable artist-audience relationships, the best ways of bridging the gap between sales and streaming, and metrics like customer lifetime value. After all, millions of followers don’t translate to millions of sales, or streams. In an always-on, streaming-dominated attention economy, artists don’t sell their music anymore – they sell themselves.  An artist’s most valuable asset is their time. And releasing one album every couple of years is not enough – younger audiences like to snack on content. Therefore, artists should focus on creating more frequent, short-form, bite-sized content for their digital platforms. And that goes for music, not just social media content. Many artists would do well to follow the example set by the likes of Drake and Gucci Mane in 2015 of creating and dropping multiple mixtapes, albums and other releases on a more frequent basis – more content, and less promo cycle. Yes, Drake is at a level that most artists can only dream of, but his strategy of releasing constant content saw him become Spotify’s most-streamed artist globally in 2015.

2016 will see a seismic shift from marketing on social networks to messaging apps and platforms, such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger (the latter of which now has 800m users), and private groups. In time, this level of communication will surely be expected from brands and artists alike, and will be an ideal medium for bite-sized content consumption. However, the fact that these apps plan to become a one-stop portal to everything on your smartphone suggests that they may well go the same way as social networks – cluttered, noisy and time-consuming. And therefore far from an intimate way for fans and artists to truly connect. Another option could be that Facebook and its peers start to integrate music into their platforms much more effectively, through features like Music Stories, and perhaps even selling gig tickets directly from event pages.

Ultimately, however, the music industry must be mindful of the importance of owning the relationship with your audience. Collect and own as much data on your audience as you can, and prioritise the power of your own platforms. In the face of all the technological innovation in the world, the humble website and mailing list are still the most powerful tools at the music industry’s disposal in 2016.

Music Marketing

Streaming, Social And Damned Statistics

ADE conference

Last week I was privileged to present on ‘Streaming, Social And Damned Statistics’ at Amsterdam Dance Event 2015. To celebrate the milestone 20th anniversary edition of the world’s biggest and best dance music conference, I was asked to take part in a series of special ’20×20′ talks. The idea behind the 20×20 series was for each of the speakers to talk for 20 minutes about a music business-related topic close to their heart.

The Importance Of Our Emotional Connection To Music

I chose to tell three short personal stories that illustrate the power of our emotional connection to music, and the power of music to bring people together. Music lies at the heart of human emotions and relationships; it evolved as a way for us to communicate with each other before we even had language, and it’s a key way in which we identify both with ourselves and with each other. The epicentre of music is emotion, and how and what it makes you feel; and that very primal power is where the real value of music lies.

Despite this indisputable fact, in 2015 we find ourselves in a place where our emotional connection to music is weaker than ever, and music is less valued than ever. The shift from sales to streaming and the dominance of social networks as the channels via which we consume media are diminishing the value of each of these platforms, the value of the artist-fan relationship, and the value of music itself. Discussions around streaming seem to focus solely on issues like transparency, payments, monetisation, curation and discovery, while our emotional connection to music is lost, buried or ignored; and yet, it lies at the heart of solving so many of these problems.

In my presentation, I decided to delve into recent research by music industry analyst Mark Mulligan, which demonstrated that the abundance of music available on demand on streaming services, and the seismic shift in youth culture being driven by the rise of a new generation of YouTube and social media stars, are leading to more fickle artist-fan relationships. Meanwhile, the music industry is still laser-focused on all the wrong things – release dates, campaign cycles and budgets, and the need to sell product right now. We’re still marketing and releasing music in the same cookie-cutter, set-template ways that stem straight from the heyday of the CD era. And we’re more obsessed than ever by meaningless vanity metrics like follower numbers, video views and chart positions. But numbers on their own mean nothing – if you have 10,000 Facebook fans, does that mean that you can sell 10,000 records, or gig tickets? We all know the answer to that.

How To Connect Artists And Audiences In A Streaming Economy

In a streaming-dominated attention economy, the challenge isn’t to reach more people, and nor is it to increase the amount of people that you sell to; it’s to make people care. Too often, artists and labels seem to approach digital marketing from a perspective of “What can this do for me and my career?” But now, the listener is the power player; in order to successfully build and monetise an audience, you have to start with your listeners, and put them first. You have to give people a reason to care about you, and to follow you – because the most important factor in any potential fan’s decision as to whether or not they want to support you is how you’re making them feel. The only metric that the music industry really needs to be concerned with is customer lifetime value; artists need to focus on turning fans into high-value, loyal, long-term customers, who keep coming back, and keep streaming their music. But you’ll only succeed in doing so if you get to know your audience, invest time into developing a more personal and direct relationship with them, and go above and beyond to add value for them. It’s a combination of data and engagement that holds the key to successful music marketing in 2015 and beyond.

Yet while many of the ways in which we’re now connecting to music are new, the scary and frustrating thing is that none of the points that I’m making in my presentation are. In fact, they’re all long-established tenets of wisdom in the world of marketing. So why aren’t more artists, labels and digital music services focusing on engaging listeners emotionally?

We need to stop selling product, and start prioritising our emotional, cultural and social relationship to music. It’s time to reconnect audiences to music and to artists on an emotional level – before those audiences switch the lights off on their way out…

NB: you can watch the full video of my live presentation below (apologies for the shakiness in parts, and the fact that the quality isn’t professional – this was shot on an iPhone. The darkness of the room isn’t down to the phone, but rather the choice of the ADE crew, so beyond our control). Thank you to ADE’s Gary Smith for the introduction (some of which has been edited out to make the video that bit shorter).